Mandy Cohen: From Yale Medical Student to Director of the CDC

On June 16, President Biden announced that Mandy Cohen, MD 05, MPH, is his choice to be the next director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, succeeding Rochelle Walensky, MD, after Walensky he resigned on 30 June.

Since she was a student at the Yale School of Medicine, graduating in 2005, Cohen has been determined to make her mark on health care policy. You said, I’ve always known I wanted to make an impact on a large scale. Howard Forman, MD, MBA, professor of radiology and biomedical imaging, public health (health policy), and economics at Yale, spoke with us. He says she sensed her drive when he was one of Cohen’s faculty advisors and has followed her successes ever since.

HOWARD FORMAN: When she was a student, she had an interest in health policy and met with me to talk about what would be the characteristics of her education at and after Yale that might set her on the path to being able to impact health care delivery. health care and health equity in the future What I remember is that he recognized that there were huge problems in our health care delivery system and he recognized that a doctor could play a vital role in helping to improve them and that he wanted be that very doctor, and that she wasn’t interested, as I recall, in the more trodden path of becoming an academic or becoming a hospital administrator, but was much more interested in working within government systems, to try to improve health and health equity. She has pursued a path that, frankly, I would have thought was impossible at the time, and she has done it exceptionally well.

Cohen’s journey included moving to Washington after his medical residency at Massachusetts General Hospital to work for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, becoming a founding member of the grassroots organization Doctors for Obama. [later renamed Doctors for America], and then working in the Obama administration, where she was instrumental in implementing the details of the Affordable Care Act. From 2017 to 2021, she was the secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, during which tenure she had to deal with the COVID-19 health emergency. Forman admires the work you have done in difficult political circumstances.

FORMAN: You and I have had subsequent conversations about how being able to make an impact requires understanding every stakeholder, understanding everyone involved. And what made her such a force is that she worked with elected representatives in the North Carolina Statehouse to get Medicaid expanded. It just happened in North Carolina, well after her departure from her leadership role, but no one questions that Mandy Cohen’s efforts during her years of service were instrumental in making this happen and convincing Republicans to vote for it. So Mandy knows how to work with elected officials, Mandy knows how to work within large institutions, like US Health and Human Services and North Carolina State Health and Human Services. You understand that for much health care, policy is at the state level, not the federal level. She did all of this.

He also maintained close ties to the Yale School of Medicine, offering advice to students and faculty members and returning to speak on campus at Forman’s invitation on numerous occasions.

FORMAN: She’s just a great speaker. She is excited to talk to our students. She inspires people, I think she can teach students a lot and she does a great job at that and it’s the kind of thing that she talked about when she came here. She talks about her experience in the White House, she talks about her experience with CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], talks about her experience with Doctors for America, talks about her experience with the Department of Health and Human Services in North Carolina. He talked about the pandemic. She has an incredible portfolio of significant accomplishments at every stage of her journey.

In March 2022, Cohen appeared on the Health & Veritas Podcast, produced at Yale and hosted by Forman and Harlan Krumholz, MD, SM, Harold H. Hines Professor of Medicine (Cardiology). On the podcast, Cohen said: [T]North star for me is how do we get health for people? Not health care, I’m just not interested in buying health care. I want to buy health. I want grandparents to be able to walk around with their grandchildren. I want people to live long, productive and fruitful lives that are happy and healthy. And this is mental health, physical health, emotional health, all of that.

If a CDC director’s time demands permit, Cohen plans to return to speak at the Yale School of Medicine during a previously scheduled visit on Oct. 5 and 6. Forman expects her to be an outstanding director of the CDC.

FORMAN: I think he’s going to do very well. First of all, you know, we all hope to learn from mistakes and Mandy knows how to learn from other people’s mistakes, she’s a keen witness to what works and what doesn’t work. She is not the one who has to put her hand on the fire to know that the fire is hot. And so I think you’re joining an organization that’s desperate for certain kinds of reform, that requires transparency. Mandy has always been transparent. And I think she will bring a fresh and refreshing vibe to the CDC.

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